TENS Unit Therapy

According to UCLA Health a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit is “intended to reduce both acute and chronic pain. These devices are able to manipulate frequency, pulse width, and intensity of the electric current.”  TENS units are usually used to reduce pain, and they do so by tapping into the body’s natural pain relief peptides: endorphins, enkephalins, and dynorphins.  These are the same peptides released with an opioid medicine such as Norco, without the side effects of an opiate-based medicine.  In a physical therapy setting TENS units are placed on and around the painful area and the strength of the unit is slowly turned up until the patient feels a substantial electric current.  This also causes a drastic relief in pain almost instantly.  Why?  Because pain is caused by nerve endings firing off pain signals to the brain, and the TENS unit slows or mitigates that process.

E-Stim Therapy

E-Stim, or electrical stimulation, is similar to TENS therapy, but directed more at muscle rehabilitation than simply pain relief.  E-stim looks very similar to TENS therapy but the effect is different: e-stim helps to rehabilitate muscles.  According to the website www.tensunits.com “Generally speaking, EMS is used for therapeutic muscle stimulation and growth, and TENS is used to relieve pain symptoms.”  Your physical therapist may e-stim before you begin your physical therapy to help your muscles prepare for any stretching or manipulations.  It also helps prepare your body for any chiropractic type of adjustments that may be caused or exacerbated by muscle-tissue.

Does it Hurt?

Neither TENS therapy or E-Stim should hurt, in fact, it should help to relieve existing pain.  If it is painful the current is simply too strong.  When starting with any type of electricity-based therapy it is wise to begin at a lower setting level and gradually increase the intensity as you become accustomed to the sensation.

Alternatives to TENS or E-Stim

These types of therapy are relatively new in physical therapy practice.  It is still possible to achieve similar goals with massage or heat.  If you are not able to receive either therapy you can still benefit from physical therapy and massage.  Make sure to communicate with your doctor and your physical therapist about your pain levels, your tolerance for therapy, and any injuries or medical conditions you have.